Stampede Trail 'magic bus'

A group of hikers take a break at Bus 142 along the Stampede Trail on June 21, 2009. 

A 24-year-old Belarus woman died Thursday while trying to cross the Teklanika River on the Stampede Trail near Healy.

Veronika Nikonova and her husband, Pyotr Markelov, also 24, were trying to reach the abandoned bus where hiker Christopher McCandless starved to death in 1992, according to Alaska State Trooper spokesman Ken Marsh.

The couple, who married just a month ago, attempted to ford the river at the upper crossing. They were holding onto a rope stretched across the river when Nikonova lost her grip and was swept under the water.

Markelov told troopers he pulled his wife out of the water about 75 to 100 feet downriver but that she had already died. Markelov reported the death at 11:52 p.m. and troopers from Nenana and volunteers with the Tri-Valley Fire Department reached the scene on ATVs. Nikonova's body was recovered and sent to the state medical examiner's office in Anchorage. Troopers are investigating the incident.

Also known as Bus 142 or the Magic Bus, the site was made famous by writer John Krakauer's 1996 book "Into the Wild" and a 2007 movie of the same name. Located about 30 miles deep into the wilderness, the bus has become a place of pilgrimage for people who view McCandless as a tragic folk hero of sorts.

Each year visitors from all over the world attempt the dangerous trail, some of them paying for it with their lives. A 29-year-old Swiss woman died crossing the Teklanika River in 2010, and in 2013 two separate sets of hikers had to be rescued by helicopter after running into trouble while returning from the bus. Two American hikers had to be rescued in 2016 after they were almost swept away by the current, and a 42-year-old Belgian man was rescued after being trapped on the far side of the river in 2017.

There have been 15 state-generated search and rescues involving the bus between 2009 and 2017, according to troopers.

Marsh said people should be mindful of the dangers involved while recreating in the wilderness.

"Alaska’s outdoors are big and unforgiving. There are weather concerns that people have to be aware of, geographical conditions, water conditions, wildlife," Marsh said. "We want people to get out there and enjoy the big outdoors that Alaska offers, but just a reminder to be prepared and know your limitations, too. If that river is too high or too swift, know when to call it quits or to hold off."

Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.

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